With the world’s population set to hit 7 billion later this year -- and 10 billion by the end of the century -- top quality agricultural land has never been more valuable. Perhaps it’s with an eye for a good investment opportunity or, as some concerned observers believe, to protect against any potential future food shortages, but government-backed companies have begun buying up farmland around the world, with Australia’s vast tracts of top quality primary production land a prime target. Qatar-based Hassad Foods has been a major player in the big local farmland buy-up. Backed by the Qatar Investment Authority, the company has invested more than $60 million in prime Australian sheep grazing land in the past year, with more properties in the company's sights. As well as prized Kaladbro Estate in western Victoria and Queensland's Clover Downs, Hassad's burgeoning portfolio also includes 6800 hectares of sheep grazing land in Canowindra in New South Wales. And they're continuing to look to add to their string of acquisitions. Last week The Weekly Times reported Hassad were poised to snap up a further 8500 hectares of land in Victoria's western district in a deal worth $35 million -- about 20% above market price. Meanwhile, China state-owned conglomerate Bright Foods has also been hungrily looking to acquire local agribusinesses because of the favourable local environment for overseas investors. The Shanghai-controlled company have reported to be interested in Foster's wine division, while last year they made a failed $1.7 billion tilt for sugar producer CSR. The company has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the NSW government to explore local wine, diary and sugar investment opportunities. In the south-east of Australia, Brazilian beef giant JBS has been busy buying up abattoirs and meatworks, while Singapore-based Olam International now control almost 45% of Australian almonds -- thanks to its purchase of Timbercorp and its 8096-hectare plantation.

Crikey has begun mapping the recent purchases of prime Australian farmland by overseas interests (click the image to view the map)